As a blogger who writes about Australia’s gambling industry, with a particular focus on poker machines, I’m often thankful that I live in Victoria. That has nothing to do with the actual industry, of course… it was on Victorian pokies that I blew roughly $100,000 over three years of full-blown poker machine addiction.
But there is one area where Victoria is far, far ahead of the rest of the country, and that’s in the area of transparency. In Victoria, the ruling body for poker machine regulation and administration is the VCGR; while I’m no fan of the Commission and constantly tear my hair out (metaphorically speaking) over their decisions, when it comes to information about venues and expenditure, no other state’s ruling body comes close.
And so, while I can (and do) write about the Victorian industry, the money spent, the most affected areas, the most profitable venues… I can’t do the same for any other state in the country. And that’s a problem.
Australia’s poker machine industry needs to be transparent; it needs to be accountable. The Australian public spends $12 billion a year on poker machines; we deserve to be told where, when and how that money is being spent, and what the implications are.
Sadly, most of the country seems to disagree. There is a fundamental lack of public accountability across the nation when it comes to the pokies; some states are worse than others, but compared to the Victorian model of transparency and accountability, none of them are good.
As a comparitive example, I’ve graded each state and territory’s ruling body with regards to the financial and venue information they provide to the public. Western Australia, of course, gets an “A” by default… no need to be transparent about an industry that doesn’t exist!
Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation (VCGR) – A
As I mentioned above, the VCGR sets the standard for the others to follow. On their website you can find detailed information about how much money every venue in the state earns, month by month, year by year; you can also get that same information by Local Government Area (LGA), and broken down into country and metropolitan regions. You can find out not only how many poker machines a specific venue has, but also their gambling licence number and the names of the venue’s nominee and associates. And you get detailed demographic and socio-economic information about every LGA in the state. There is also a comprehensive archive of decisions handed down by the VCGR relating to poker machine applications by new and existing venues.
Tasmanian Gaming Commission – B
Australia’s smallest state, both geographically and in terms of poker machine numbers, is ahead of everyone bar Victoria with regards to the transparency of their industry. All venues are listed on the Tasmanian Gaming Commission‘s website, along with the number of poker machines each venue has, and summarised financial data is available for the state as a whole. What’s missing is financial reporting for each venue.
Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (QLD OLGR) – C
Like Tasmania, the QLD OLGR reports on poker machine numbers by venue for the entire state. Financial information is also available, but also like Tasmania, it’s not available for individual venues. What lets them down is the awkward organisation of their data, and the fact that as the second-biggest poker machine state in Australia, they should be doing so much more.
SA Office of the Liquor & Gambling Commissioner (OLGC) - D
There is a lot of information available on the OLGC‘s website; sadly, very little of it has anything to do with venues or poker machine expenditure. The only saving grace is a list of venues and their gaming machine entitlements, and quarterly reporting of statewide poker machine spending.
ACT Gambling and Racing Commission (GRC) – D-
The only thing that prevents the GRC from an outright fail grade is that after digging around their website, I finally found a list of clubs, including gaming revenue and poker machine numbers, buried deep in a report about community contributions. That’s all there was, and that’s not good enough.
NT Department of Justice: Licensing, Regulation and Alcohol Strategy (LRAS) – E
The Northern Territory LRAS has nothing. No data, no statistics, no financial information… not even a list of venues. They deserve their failing grade.
NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing (NSW OLGR) – F
The biggest poker machine state in Australia is also the least accountable. Dig around the NSW OLGR website as much as you like; the only information you’ll find is a single-page fact sheet from 2009, which has no useful data at all. As far as the NSW OLGR is concerned, poker machine statistics of any kind simply don’t exist. There is no listing of venues, no record of expenditure of any kind… this is an industry and a ruling body that doesn’t want the public to know what’s going on.
What’s worse is their mercenary attitude towards the public. Until relatively recently, the only way you could get any kind of venue statistics from the NSW OLGR was to buy it from them. That’s right; they would charge hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on how many venues you were interested in, and even then there were massive restrictions on what you could do with the data.
That changed last year… when even this service was shut down. I rang the NSW OLGR in Novermber 2011 and asked how I could get expenditure information for a certain venue; I was told “That’s not going to happen.”
Show Us The Money!
It’s time Australia’s poker machine industry and state/territory governments stopped getting away with a fundamental lack of public accountability. We are the public that spends the billions of dollars each year that keeps this industry running, and pours taxation dollars into government coffers; they have a responsibility to tell us where that money’s going. How can an industry founded on gambling even pretend to be reputable if it does everything it can to hide the truth?
And this is the perfect opportunity for change. Federal poker machine reform legislation is due in May this year; there has never been a better time to put in place national reporting standards for governments and the industry. The VCGR’s level of reporting should be the absolute minimum, not the sole highlight. Every state, every territory can and should provide the same information to their citizens free of charge; after all, it’s their money.
If, as is claimed by Clubs NSW (the most vocal opponents of poker machine reform and staunchest defenders of the poker machine industry in the country), every club is “your club”… then it’s time they put their money where their mouth is. It’s time to come clean.
It’s time to show us the money.